Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Oh What a Mourning - The Michael Jackson Memorial

I had predicted privately to friends that the Michael Jackson Memorial was going to be a hot ghetto mess of epic proportions. I deduced that a family with all the cachet of a troupe of carnival side show freaks and ten thousand randomly picked grieving fans was a recipe for disaster. Throw Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton into that mix and you'd get the most classless event since...well the most recent BET Awards show. I based that assessment on how Daddy Joe plugged his new business interest at the BET Awards. And how brother Jermaine gave a tour of Never Land Ranch to Larry King before the arrangements were complete. The fact that Jackson’s dearest friends, Liza Minnelli, Elizabeth Taylor, Quincy Jones, and Diana Ross all declined to attend seemed to be further evidence of an anticipated fiasco. But what I didn’t know was that someone in the family had the idea to hire AEG Live and Kenny Ortega to produce the service. This was the single smartest decision the family could have made; and they should be applauded for turning the service over into competent hands.

I happily admit that I was wrong. It was a near flawless program. It wasn’t a traditional service, and for good reason. This was not a traditional honoree. Michael Jackson was arguably the most successful single entertainer of all time. That was reflected throughout the two-hour service. A rare combination of pomp, circumstance and dignity was on display at the Staples Center yesterday. Yet it had tinges of a simple gathering of family and friends. And the family set a tone of sober grandeur that I had not expected at all. The sisters (including Janet and Latoya pictured here with Michael's daughter Paris and his son Prince Michael II) were resplendent in solemn elegance. The brothers’ uniformity of attire was strikingly symbolic. I would have preferred gray cutaways but the black suits and gold ties seemed appropriately Hollywood. The children avoided that image of oppressive grief that children wearing black usually conveys. And Katherine Jackson was nothing less than regal. From the Rolls Royce motorcade to the spotlight on the unoccupied microphone at the end, the whole program was as classy as it could have been.

When Kenny Ortega was asked to help out he apparently took over. And on behalf of all the fans of the King of Pop I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you. Ortega is an Emmy Award-winning producer, director and choreographer. His list of credits include Xanadu with the legendary Gene Kelly, Dirty Dancing, Super Bowl XXX, the 1996 Summer Olympics (Atlanta), the 2002 Winter Olympics (Salt Lake City) the 72nd Annual Academy Awards, Madonna’s "Material Girl" video, High School Musical I and II, and most recently he was scheduled to do the alas-never-to-be This Is It tour for Michael Jackson.

I am now the self-proclaimed president of the Kenny Ortega fan club. It’s obvious that he took the family’s wishes into consideration. Otherwise, how would you explain Al Sharpton and those dreadful King children being included on the program? But he put together a memorial service that was worthy of Michael, the man, the myth, his music and his majesty.

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